Falcom’s Trails series currently has 8 games out in America, spread across 3 story arcs, with the middle one still incomplete. All of the games out in America are largely accessible, especially if you have a moderately-powered PC. With the release of Trails from Zero in late September, I have seen the question asked around the internet several times, where should one start if they find themselves wanting to try the series? Well, for those who find themselves Trails-curious, I will break down the 3 logical starting points, and make a final assessment as to what I think the order should be for people wanting to tackle this frankly huge series.
Trails in the Sky FC: This has a certain logic to it, it is the first game in the series after all. It is not only the first game of the series, it is the first chronologically in the timeline. The game is very good (they all are), and introduces many mechanics that carry all the way through the series, like Orbments, and the gameplay loop between main quests and side quests that is a hallmark of Trails games. The game is also very easy to get a hold of, it’s available on Steam, and I am pretty sure the game would run on just about anything. For that very reason though, that may not appeal to a newcomer, the graphics are very old-school, being based off of a PSP game. The story is also a VERY slow burn at the start, taking time to really set the table that pays off later, but the early pacing can be a bit rough for someone who isn’t used to this sort of game.
Trails from Zero: The newest release in the series is really not new, it first came out in Japan in 2010, and never made its way to America until September 2022. A lot of improvements were made to this title over its initial PSP release, and almost all of those additions made their way into the western release…almost all (Looking at you, Vita-exclusive side quests). This game does start a new arc, so new players could jump in and enjoy themselves; however there are some story elements that are derived from the Trails in the Sky arc, and the game doesn’t go out of its way to explain it to you. So some elements may seem random to newcomers, but help plug lore gaps for people who have put in the time with Trails in the Sky 1-3. Plus, while better looking than Trails in the Sky for sure, Trails from Zero features similar 2D sprites in 3D maps, making the game look dated. For some people, this is a feature, for some it is an impediment. Also, the second game in the arc doesn’t come out until March of next year, so if you find yourself wanting to continue the adventures of the Special Support Section, you’ll have to wait, where the other 2 arcs are complete in America.
Trails of Cold Steel: While this is the latest arc available in America, it is a strong contender for being the first Trails game that people play. First of all, it’s fully 3D, not stunning photo realism 3D, but very anime, and well done. Secondly, this is the first of the three arcs that were made for consoles first, so there is a certain sense of scale to the game that Trails in the Sky and Trails from Zero lacked, being made for handhelds. Lastly, the game has English voice-acting. While some people may prefer the Japanese VO, having the game fully be in English just provides a level of accessibility. Also this game is very self-contained in its story, you really don’t need to know much about the other arcs to fully enjoy this game. That changes as the arc progresses however, which leads into my final assessment.
Final Assessment: I really think new players to the series would be best served by playing Trails of Cold Steel first. Only the first one though. After you finish that game, if you fell in love with the characters and setting like I find most people do, then go allllll the way back to Trails in the Sky FC, and play in order from there. Trails of Cold Steel provides the right amount of evolution and modern sensibilities that will leave a new player grappling with less older game design issues. Also the story starts faster than Trails in the Sky, and Trails from Zero, which will help ease the player into knowing what to expect when they go back to the older games. Also by following this order, Trails to Azure should be out by the time it would come time to play that, so you should see minimal waiting on the story then.
However someone decides to tackle this massive series though, I promise that they will find a world like no other JRPG has. It’s massive, lived in, and the stories are crafted with such heart, that I only wish I got to this series earlier in life.